Friday, November 17, 2017

Montgomery County Council clueless in meeting with Maryland transportation official

Another clueless performance by the Montgomery County Council in a transportation meeting yesterday has many in the business community questioning their fitness for office. In a failed attempt to dress down Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's transportation secretary Pete Rahn, their politically-motivated meeting ended up instead exposing how poorly-informed the Council is on the basics of modern infrastructure, its operation, and financing.

Councilmembers repeatedly demanded "transit" be part of Hogan's massive Express Lanes plan for the Capital Beltway, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. They were unaware that it is standard practice for regular and rapid buses to use Express Lanes on highways.

Council President Roger Berliner asked Rahn if he could "fold in" the stalled Corridor Cities Transitway BRT project into the $9 billion dollar Express Lanes project. This was patently absurd for two reasons: The CCT runs on a completely different route than I-270, for starters. And the CCT, like all bus and rail service, will be a money-loser; transit does not generate profits like Express Lanes. What sane private corporation would try to combine the potentially-narrow profit margin of these particular Express Lanes with a surefire money drain like the CCT?

Finally, Councilmember George Leventhal showed how out of touch he is with his constituents when he advised Rahn that the more transit is part of the Express Lanes plan, "the more it will be easier (sic) to assuage our constituents." Huh? His constituents, tired of being stuck in traffic, want the popular Express Lanes plan proposed by Hogan. Leventhal should listen to voices beyond the yes-men in his office before daring to speak on behalf of his constituents.

Rahn, in contrast, demonstrated he has his finger on the pulse of frustrated Maryland drivers. His only misstep was waffling on how much the project might end up costing taxpayers, off-message with Hogan's promise that private companies would take on the financial burden.

Business leaders watching the hearing - and Montgomery's moribund private-sector economy and plunging wealth numbers - were reminded of a similar amateur-hour performance by the Council earlier this fall. In a worksession on autonomous vehicles, councilmembers showed a laughable lack-of-knowledge of the basic nuts-and-bolts of this now-arriving technology.  Many referred to autonomous vehicles as a futuristic fantasy, apparently unaware that Tesla vehicles on the road right now have fully-autonomous capability. The Council also didn't know how the cars might be insured. As more evidence that the Council hadn't even done the most basic research ahead of the session, they didn't know Volvo had just announced it would take on drivers' insurance liability itself.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jobocalypse ahead after Montgomery County Council approves $15 minimum wage

"That's a lot of extra
Slurpees to sell"

The potentially-devastating impact of a $15 minimum wage was evident moments after it was unanimously passed by the Montgomery County Council yesterday. A Bethesda restaurant owner observing the proceedings, who had been planning two additional ventures in the county, declared he would never open another restaurant in the jurisdiction. He said his existing downtown Bethesda restaurant might even have to close in the coming years, as a result of the new financial burden in a razor-thin-profit-margin industry.

Just consider the impact of two full restaurant operations, with all of the employees those would entail, now never existing. All of those jobs just vanished, and the economic impact of that unemployment far outweighs the slight cash boost to workers in existing restaurants - assuming they don't lose their jobs, or get replaced by touchscreen kiosks. Now multiply that among other entrepreneurs deciding to take their dreams - and jobs - elsewhere. Montgomery County's outlay of services, required by those unemployed folks, will increase, not decrease. Taxpayers will pick up that bill, along with the increased prices of food and merchandise. Heckuva job, Brownie!

Of course, this is exactly what the Council wants. The more unemployed people, the more people who have to crawl on their knees to the Council for "services." Dependency on government is the aim, and that involves keeping those at the bottom of the ladder from climbing the rungs.

Councilmember Hans Riemer and his colleagues effectively terminated the middle-class business opportunity of Airbnb a few weeks ago. Up until that point, a modest real estate investor could have bought a few small homes and condo units, and generated a good cash flow from Airbnb rentals.

Without the same level of tenant damage concerns, or having to seek evictions of problem tenants, a middle-class County resident could have more-easily generated money for larger investments and ventures than with traditional renting. Now, you can only rent out your own current place of residence - just one unit - and you have to be on the property during the rental. Nothing makes an Airbnb more appealing than a hotel room than a landlord sitting on your couch, right? Thanks, Hans!

Imagine, initiative and some work allowing County residents to attain upper class status - status the County Council enjoys now, as they work a few hours a week for $137,000 a year. Notice they don't consider you deserving that amount, too. $15 isn't even close to a living wage in Montgomery County, and they know it.

Increasingly moribund Montgomery County has suffered a net loss of over 2000 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association. We've had a net loss in jobs since 2005, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. Montgomery County's restaurant sector has "slowed since 2012, and remains flat," according to Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. 

Surprisingly, Councilmember Craig Rice also voted for the bill, despite his previous and correct concerns about the impact on African-American job-seekers, young workers in particular. According to a 2015 survey by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, BETAH Associates, Inc. and Montgomery College,  only 8.7% of black high school students surveyed in the County are employed, and only 30.7% of black high school dropouts have been able to obtain employment. Among Montgomery County's young black high school graduates, only 39.7% of those surveyed are currently employed. 

The hits just keep on coming from the most anti-business elected officials in the region. A Council that has done literally nothing to improve traffic congestion, or to provide direct access to in-demand Dulles International Airport for international businesspeople, is spending most of its time criticizing Gov. Larry Hogan - - who is actually doing something in proposing Express Lanes for I-495 and I-270, and funding Metro. And that's when they're not telling us which snacks to buy from vending machines, or banning circuses.

Reaction to the $15 wage vote by local Chambers and business organizations was muted yesterday. In the next few days, we'll find out if those leaders are ready to "get dangerous" and challenge the MoCo cartel, as former Gov. Bob Ehrlich exhorted them to do in 2004. Or go quietly into the good night, in the most moribund private sector economy in the D.C. region.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MD A.G. opposing $4 billion deal...for company in his own state

A virtually unprecedented situation is unfolding in Maryland. The state's attorney general, Brian Frosh, is opposing a $4 billion dollar merger expected to be a financial boon for a his own state. In a move that has left many in the business community again scratching their heads over the anti-business mania of the Montgomery County political cartel, Frosh last Friday joined his peers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in opposing the merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media Company.

Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair forecasts the merger would be a boon in boosting revenues, cutting costs and generating cash flow to pay down debts. Should such benefits come to pass, the cash flow would also go to the state of Maryland via taxes. But now Maryland's own attorney general is stepping in to try and stop the deal, which is currently before the Federal Communications Commission.

Despite that potential revenue boost for the state, Frosh is calling the merger "a bad deal for Marylanders." The attorney general claims the deal would raise the cost of cable, and reduce programming choices for viewers. Apparently, Frosh is unaware of Netflix, HBO Now, Sling TV, Hulu, YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, Crackle, Tubi TV, Acorn TV, and Pluto TV, just to name a few.

Frosh and his fellow travelers also say the merger would improperly use the UHF Discount rule to avoid the FCC cap on total station reach, and advise the FCC to wait until the District of Columbia Circuit Court issues its final ruling on the UHF rule. But clear heads can rule today that the Montgomery County political cartel has once again lost its wits.

While the deal should certainly be scrutinized by regulators, it is astonishing to witness a state's attorney general trying to sabotage a deal - and lower profits for - a company in his own state. It does not help Montgomery County and Maryland shed their horrible international reputation as anti-business jurisdictions. And will therefore give just one more reason for corporations to avoid us and relocate to Virginia instead.

Bad deal.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Olde Town Advisory Committee to brief Gaithersburg Mayor & Council tonight

The Olde Town Gaithersburg Advisory Committee will give its annual briefing to the Mayor and Council tonight at City Hall. They are expected to report success in leasing percentages in Olde Towne-area apartment buildings, new dining additions, and the imminent delivery of the Olde Towne Park Plaza.

Still a drag on Olde Towne are crime, failure to attract retail despite low rents relative to other parts of Gaithersburg, and the concern that those issues will eventually impact the rental apartment market.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

MCPS a top ten offender in spending money that doesn't go to the classroom


Montgomery County is ranked 8th in the nation in school spending that goes to administrators, rather than the classroom, according to Fox 45's Project Baltimore investigative unit. Baltimore City was the worst offender in the nation, their journalists found. Montgomery County Public Schools rank 8th out of all school systems in America in pumping cash to administrators, rather than to teachers and classroom costs. Six of the top ten are in Maryland.

This is once again proof that the record tax hike of 2016 did not go to hire teachers or improve academic performance (as recent PARCC test results proved - math scores declined, and English scores rose statewide, proving there was an obvious flaw in English portion of the test, rather than actual success by MCPS). In fact, a large chunk of the recordation tax money went to pay off the County's legal costs in the Silver Spring Transit Center debacle, in an outrageous and corrupt bait-and-switch by the County Council.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Gov. Hogan proposes massive traffic congestion relief plan

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proposed the largest traffic congestion relief plan in the nation on Thursday, which would widen the entire Capital Beltway (I-495) within Maryland, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD-295). The $9 billion plan would add tolled Express Lanes to each road, but not charge for use of existing lanes.

To expand capacity on the B-W Parkway, the state would have to be given control of the road by the federal government. Hogan has begun preliminary discussions with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke regarding this issue, he said. A private partner will be solicited by the state to construct and operate the new Express Lanes on all three highways. Because of the public-private nature of the plan, Hogan can largely move forward on his own to implement it, another plus in what is sure to be a contentious election year legislative session in Annapolis.

In a press conference yesterday, Hogan called his plan "unprecedented" and "absolutely transformative." The popular governor predicted that the congestion relief would assist the entire region, not just Maryland residents. Aside from the clear practical benefits, the highway plan is a brilliant political move, as many of Hogan's rivals have already taken the bait and come out opposing traffic congestion relief(!).

Other politicians, even those not in Hogan's party, smartly endorsed the plan. Robin Ficker, a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Executive who has called for such a plan for I-270 for years, praised the governor's proposal. "We say thank you to Governor Larry Hogan for putting forth a plan to widen the 495 beltway and I 270," Montgomery County Young Republicans VP Dan McHugh said in a statement. "This will help alleviate the terrible traffic problems we have here in Montgomery County!! This is what happens when you elect Republicans - we get things done!!" Patricia Fenati, a GOP candidate for the House of Delegates in District 14, recalled the many hours she has spent over the years driving from the upcounty into the District for work. "Finally, a hero has come along to look at that problem, and come up with a solution," she said of Hogan.

Predictable criticisms and the old "induced demand" canard came from organizations engaged in the War on Cars in our region following yesterday's announcement. "Induced demand" theory has never been proven, as missing pieces of our regional freeway system have been to blame for growing congestion on our few highways. For example, there is no second Potomac River crossing, and no M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended, to relieve traffic on the American Legion Bridge and I-270. And the Capital Beltway was doomed to be jammed when anti-car forces foiled the original plan to run I-95 through Washington, D.C. That dumb move sends East Coast traffic around our Beltway 365 days a year, creating massive traffic jams.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First debate for Montgomery County Executive candidates this Saturday, 10:00 AM

The 2018 election season is getting an early start this weekend. Five months before the candidate filing deadline, the men who have already thrown their hats in the ring for the open Montgomery County Executive office will square off in a forum hosted by the Montgomery County Muslim Council. The debate will be held this Saturday, September 23, from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM at the Potomac Community Center, located at 11315 Falls Road in Potomac.

Expected to participate are Republican Robin Ficker and Democrats Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal. Democrat Bill Frick of Bethesda just entered the race yesterday, and I will update this article as soon as I can confirm his participation.

The event is free to attend and open to the public. From the schedule, it appears Congressional candidates will speak first, and the County Executive candidates will go on at noon. However, you will have the chance to "work the room" and speak one-on-one with the candidates between 10-10:30, and between 1-1:30. This is the first real chance to hear the platforms and positions of the candidates in their own words.